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"Medley's detailed history stands on its own as the most complete historical accounting of one of the Court's most infamous decisions."
-Law & Politics Book Review
In June 1892, Homer Plessy bought a first-class railway ticket from New Orleans to Covington. His trip had hardly begun when Plessy was arrested and removed from the train. Though Homer Plessy was born a free man of color and enjoyed relative equality while growing up in Reconstruction-era New Orleans, by 1890 he could no longer ride in the same carriage with white passengers. Plessy's act of civil disobedience was designed to test the constitutionality of the Separate Car Act, one of the many Jim Crow laws that threatened the freedoms gained by blacks after the Civil War. This largely forgotten case established segregation as the law of the land and prefigures both Rosa Parks' defiance of bus segregation in Alabama and the legal arguments of Brown v. Board of Education.
Jacket art by Louise Mouton Johnson
|Chapter 1||A Negro Named Plessy||13|
|Chapter 2||John Howard Ferguson||37|
|Chapter 3||Albion W. Tourgee||53|
|Chapter 4||One Country, One People||67|
|Chapter 5||The Separate Car Act of 1890||89|
|Chapter 6||Who Will Bell the Cat?||111|
|Chapter 7||Are You a Colored Man?||139|
|Chapter 8||My Dear Martinet||169|
|Chapter 9||We as Freemen||185|
|Chapter 10||The Battle of Freedom||209|
Posted September 22, 2003
Long before Rosa Parks refused the disrespectful order to go to the back of the bus in Montgomery, Alabama, came Homer Plessy, the young shoemaker who knew he'd be arrested for refusing to leave the 'whites only' car on the New Orleans railroad. He refused to go to the segregated car in order to make the point that the law was cruel and unjust. A federal case was made of it, and in the end, the US Supreme Court made segregation the law of the land for the next 53 years. The high court ruled that 'separate but equal' was fair and equitable but history has proven there was nothing fair nor equal about that decision. History also proves there was no justice in that high court opinion and no wisdom or sense of human rights residing with the Justices who issued it. In 'We as Freemen,' Keith Medley uncovers the rich and intriguing history of the personalities who fought for equality 30 years after the Civil war ended, but generations before U.S. rulers ended legal discrimination based on skin color. In carefully crafted prose, the author is apparently the first researcher to explore the character, mores and lives of the long forgotten men of the Comité des Citoyen (Committee of Citizens) who planned and carried out the peaceful challenge to Louisiana's Separate Car Act of 1890. Homer Plessy did not suddenly challenge segregation. In a story well-told, Medley turned up primary research found in dusty nooks and crannies, and church, library and cemetery logs around New Orleans, which is his hometown. He describes the efforts of businessmen, lawyers, educators, and artisans to stop segregation from taking hold in the South. They conducted their campaign while the forces of reaction were regaining political control after the Civil War. The Comité aimed 'to obtain a United States Supreme Court ruling preventing states from abolishing the suffrage and equal access gains of the Reconstruction period that followed the Civil War.' Like the U.S. Supreme Court's 1857 Dred Scott decision, which barred slaves and their descendants from citizenship, the high court's decision in Plessy vs. Ferguson was demeaning and hurtful to millions of people. The high court decision in Plessy divided the population, causing widespread suffering. For this reason, it is useful to recall the dark side of Supreme Court history and to appreciate that the Justices are, for better or worse, political appointees who often press their own viewpoints, which tend also to represent the narrow views of the class of politicians who appoint them. In 1857 and again in 1896, the Supreme Court inflicted upon the public the views of Southern plantation owners and thuggish ideologues, a tiny but disproportionately powerful part of the population. In short order, the Comité 'formulated legal strategy while raising money from the neighborhoods of New Orleans, small towns throughout the South, and in cities as far away as Washington D.C. and San Francisco' and published their views in the African- American daily, The Crusader. Medley documents the heroic role of The Crusader in the battle for human rights in the humid South. The Comité held popular rallies, and did all anyone can do within democratic structures to organize resistance to the dark era of ignorance spreading through the legislatures, town halls and courtrooms controlled by rich white American men across the South. (Women would wait another generation to win the vote.) And, it would be more than five long decades before the wrongs of the high court's Plessy decision would be reversed, in part due to arguments put forward by then lawyer Thurgood Marshall to the high court sitting in 1954. Marshall argued the case in conjunction with the re-awakening across the land of the persistent struggle for Civil Rights. I particularly like that the author was able to locate photoWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 9, 2003
WE ARE FREEMEN captures the imagination of the reader--from its wonderfully illustrated cover to the very end--and it just won't let go. It reveals much about the people, organizations, strategies, and tactics behind Plesy vs. Ferguson. Well-written. Well-documented. Well done!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 6, 2003
We As Freeman' is a book that reminds us that the names impressed on our court cases were people with professions, families and all of the messy problems of ordinary life. The author draws on original documentation to illustrate the pains of the free and newly free Black populace as they watched their liberties curtailed or removed entirely. It was interesting to read the precise legal choices of the Comite des Citoyens as they moved to ensure that the charges against Plessy be properly drawn (This was reminiscent of Taylor Branch's 'Parting the Waters'). The text is clear and dramatic. It could easily serve both as a warning of how freedom is lost and as encouragement for anyone seeking a roadmap for change.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 18, 2010
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